My mother-in-law has been giving some thought to what she might like to take with her when she moves one last time. When I asked her which of her keepsakes were most important to her she said immediately, “My pictures!” I could relate to that sentiment since I have been in charge of family photography. Recently I digitalized all of that wealth so that my next move will be easier.
The task of cleaning out storage lockers, cupboards, closets, attics or sheds can be onerous and honouring. Through the layers of dust, artifacts of a personal nature are revealed. Letters and journals can be examined to make a time stamp, like rings on a tree stump, showing what was going on in our past, in times passed. Sorting comes easy when items literally break apart in your hands. Things that someone once thought might retain value, are not even yard sale worthy. Then again the adage,’One man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ continues to contain a nugget of truth.
I met up with a fellow who ran a New Immigrant Fellowship based around learning how to use a bicycle. My in-laws created a new memory for themselves by donating the wheels they had used when they were still able to peddle. In my job as cleaner/sorter in this downsizing adventure it is helpful to work with someone who sees value in letting go. I believe some of our curios are meant to make someone else smile. Clothes can be laundered and given away. Garden tools can be offered up to create new gardens of earthly delights.
My special mom has treasures from her daughter and grandkids that help her remember things hard to recapture. She wants to pass on family heirlooms. She has a pottery figurine she likes to have right next to her bed. It’s curious what each of us counts as treasure. I used to wonder what my birth mother was thinking as she stroked an old deckle edged Kodak black&white photograph. It was one taken of her sister, its corners now softened to the consistency of linen.
What we keep may be ‘art-in-fact’. Respect must be shown to the original owner of the relic. Museums around the world are coming to terms with this truth; that their cultural artifacts (some involving human remains) may have been procured under false pretences. Governments are seeking to rectify and reconcile with Indigenous People who have had their heritage put on display. Justice for these situations may be found through repatriation; a giving back of what was not ours to begin with.
I can’t imagine what I might leave behind as an artifact. I’ve already discarded things I once thought useful but no longer found important enough to shelve or even seal in a box. I can be very sentimental when exposed to an idea. I can cry when I see an artist earnestly creating. Generally though, old things are just curiosities to me. I’m an old thing after all, and pretty curious to boot.
I’ve had some amazing students in my classrooms. Some children have burned so brightly I’ve wondered at the time if this moment in their lives would eclipse all other accomplishments. Collectively, what they have left to me, is an affective legacy. Just as I have been part of my students’ lives they have shared themselves in ways that have influenced who I am today.
Lately the term ‘Legacy’ has come up in news reports to describe what a particular politician might leave behind as they vacate their office. Lessons may have been learned from their tenure in government. If the leader was of great stature they may have created change that will live on in national policies and the consciousness of the citizenry. Hopefully these achievements will be referred to before the death of the individual. Contributions are worthy of repeating long before funeral speeches are written.
While some wealthy people have used philanthropy to improve their social legacy, only history will say whether their overall impact as human beings will be revered or frowned upon. Gaining inheritance money or being a child of a celebrity can often be viewed as riding on someone else’s coat tails. Children of parents who have gone to prestigious universities in the United States are able to get Legacy Status for admission and thereby skipping the line. Recently people of privilege went a step further using bribery to receive bogus scholarships for their children.
Every Canadian knows of the legacy of Terry Fox, a one legged runner who attempted to cross our giant country to raise money for cancer research. His achievement and humility are factors that make his name appear on lists of top ten important Canadians, something he hadn’t envisioned or desired when he began the straightforward act of running. His legacy inspired Steve Fonyo to continue his run of a lifetime. Each year many run in Terry’s honour and hundreds of thousands contribute to boost this financial legacy. Individuals are often praised for what they leave behind. Groups of individuals can also be recognized for making a lasting contribution. Banners in stadiums attest to past achievements in sport. Plaques, stars in pavements or statues we erect can’t tell the whole story behind the individual honoured for their legacy.
Like the over used word ‘Hero’ we may be in a time when we hunger for an example of greatness so much that we might use ‘Legacy’ too easily. And yet no other word can be relevant to describe Captain Tom Moore as an example of a person’s actions leaving behind an imprint for the ages. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPxOjHgqFrY . Capt. Tom’s example inspired others, such as John Hillman of Oak Bay, to add to his own personal legacy by raising money for a cause by the simple act of walking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7s4JshbjUA .
Sir Isaac Newton once wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. Ultimately we increase the value of any legacy by continuing the work that has been started.